I’m currently attending the College Media Conference in Washington, D.C. And what I’ve been hearing from college media advisers this week confirms something that I’ve been seeing anecdotally while working on the Next Newsroom project at Duke. Advisers from colleges and universities of all shapes and sizes are frustrated at how resistant their students are to embrace new digital media tools and to collaborate with other media organizations on campus.
At an otherwise jovial keynote on Thursday, Rob Curley, the Washington Post’s digital and community guru, (see J.D. Lasica’s previous post on Rob here) actually admonished the room full of college students saying he’s tired of sitting through interviews with college graduates who want to talk about the stories they wrote, but don’t say anything about their multimedia skills or wanting to work online.
“I sit in these interviews,” Curley said. “And none of you say that.” His advice: Get with it. Fast.
I’m on the verge of being 40, and this image of change-resistant students flies in the face of what I assumed to be the case. At my newspaper, we have stereotyped college students as the Facebook generation and presume they’re all multimedia wizzes who will lead us out of the wilderness. Turns out they might do that in their dorms, but they’re not necessarily doing it for their respective media organizations.
So on that note, it was refreshing to sit through a panel this morning led by the Hastings College media group, based in Hastings, NE. One could argue that this small private college with four journalism professors and a core student staff of about 45 has created one of the most innovative, most fully converged newsrooms in the country.
Check out their main site at HCWorldnews.com. (I love the audacious name).
The success of the group flows from the notion that everyone is expected to be able to learn to do everything and most importantly, learn how to collaborate. Students who work at HCWorldnews must learn reporting, writing, video, audio and basic programming so they can create tools and scripts when necessary. The student TV station, radio station, print newspaper, and online team are all located in a single building. The web site and its content management system were built and maintained by the HCWorldnews staff and faculty.
Their discussions and news coverage begin at a “Super Desk” where editors from each platform gather to talk about assignments and how they will be produced for each format. Students are expected to be able to tell their stories in the form or forms that editors deem best. Or, they at least have to be able to work in teams that can handle all of that.
“It’s not about the tools,” said Hastings new media prof Brett Erickson. “It’s about storytelling.”
Sophomore Heidi Hullinger, who handles a variety of editorial and circulation roles at HCWorldnews, said the key to making it work is continually telling students they can’t just disappear into a single silo and work in one format. They must “break down the platform identity” she said.
“You will do everything when you come to HCWorld Media,” Heidi said. “You will expand your definitions and your roles. It’s expected of you.”
It hasn’t been easy for them to get there. But the results have been impressive.
Last year, the directors of the NAIA women’s basketball tournament asked them to cover the entire women’s tournament. With a couple of days notice, the HCWorldnews team packed up their equipment, trucked over the Sioux City, IA, and broadcast 30 basketball games in six days, through a combination of streaming video through their website and through their cable station. Besides just covering the games, they produced a number of video features and interviews.
“We’re very fortunate,” Erickson said. “The students are juiced to do things they’ve never done before.”